Environment Picture

President's Column: MEC: Bringing vital discussions to member groups and policy leaders statewide

Chris Kolb

  •  At our Southeast Michigan regional meeting, Dan Wyant, director of the Department of Environmental Quality, gave the keynote address. He focused on why environmentalists should care about the federal farm bill. U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow provided a video greeting. A panel discussion regarding ways to enhance Detroiters’ access to fresh food involved our regional partners and allies. An optional garden tour of the SEED Wayne project took place after the program. 
  •  Our Mid-Michigan regional meeting focused on local food. Keith Creagh, director of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, gave the keynote address. A panel discussion followed on fresh food and the importance of connecting communities to local farm goods.
  •  The Northern Michigan regional meeting was centered on collaboration and building partnerships. The keynoter was Rodney Stokes, director of the Department of Natural Resources. Panel discussions on opportunities for collaboration and building partnerships for conservation followed Stokes’ address. The panelists included local, state and tribal elected officials, along with leaders from environmental and conservation organizations. 
  •  Water was the topic at our West Michigan regional meeting in Kalamazoo. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette talked about his efforts to protect the Great Lakes from invasive species. He was followed by a great panel discussion by our member groups on efforts to protect the quality of our water resources.
  •  The Upper Peninsula meeting focused on efforts by our member groups to build a more sustainable economy and community. Squarely in the middle of our conversation was the whole mining issue and the potential for seven to nine (or more) new mines. This presented a framework for the discussion on moving economic development away from natural resource extraction to a more sustainable, place-based, economic gardening model built to retain and attract young, talented workers to the Upper Peninsula. 

Vital discussions-

 As always, local legislators attended and in some cases presented at our meetings, which we hope to make even more informative in 2012. 

 Legislative luncheon
  More than 125 legislators, policy makers and others joined MEC on June 28 for a luncheon where we shared the findings of our report on the health care costs of Michigan’s oldest coal plants. The panel discussion focused on: 

  •  A quick review of how utility rates are set and adjusted under Michigan law \
  • A progress report on Michigan’s Clean Energy legislation (Public Acts 286 and 295 of 2008) 
  •  A snapshot of Michigan’s current fleet of power plants 
  •  New data on health care costs associated with older coal-fired facilities 
  •  Recommendations for better ratepayer protection going forward 

 Governor’s meeting 
 On July 12, 2011, MEC hosted a meeting with Gov. Rick Snyder and our member groups and allies. The meeting was held in the Governor’s Conference Room and included 14 members of the environmental, conservation and conservancy communities. The governor opened with a summary of his perspective on environmental issues. The rest of the agenda focused on clean energy, the governor’s urban initiatives/policies, water infrastructure, and state lands. It was a constructive meeting and anticipated to be the first of many. 

 Infrastructure message 
 MEC, along with the Michigan Municipal League, Michigan Chamber of Commerce, and Michigan Infrastructure Transportation Association, helped provide input to the Snyder administration in advance of the governor’s special message to the legislature in October on infrastructure and transportation. This was a great opportunity to really influence the Governor’s transportation and infrastructure policies. The groups around the table have much in common on these two important issues.

 Rail Summit
 On Oct. 31, more than 200 people packed a Lansing meeting room for Michigan Rail Summit 2011, coordinated by MEC with cosponsors including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers, Michigan Municipal League, Michigan Railroads Association, and The Right Place, Inc. The agenda focused on statewide passenger and freight rail development and provided an opportunity for national and state leaders to share their thoughts and expertise on an array of topics related to rail transportation in Michigan. 
 Keynote speaker Gov. Rick Snyder discussed the importance of freight and passenger rail in the state’s economy. U.S. Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary John Porcari and Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Joseph Szabo presented a federal perspective on the need for investment in rail. 
 Other presenters included Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle and former mayor of Meridian, MS, John Robert Smith. There was a panel discussion with elected officials, including State Senator John Proos and State Representative Wayne Schmidt.
 It’s been a busy couple of months, but great to get around the state to listen to our member groups, strengthen our bonds and re-energize our efforts. There is still a lot of work in front of us, but we’re glad we have member groups, allies and coalition partners to stand with us in protecting Michigan’s environment!
-Chris Kolb
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